Nasrallah urges calm after Syrian rebels kidnap Lebanese
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Updated 9:08pm: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged his followers to remain calm after reports emerged on Tuesday that Syrian rebels had kidnapped 13 Lebanese men.
The men were said to have been returning from a tour of Shia holy sites in Iraq, and were traveling through Syria en route to Lebanon.
Lebanese TV network Al-Jadeed reported the men were kidnapped by Syrian rebels, which sparked protests by their relatives in the Beirut suburb of Tayouneh.
Families of the kidnapped men briefly blocked roads including the airport highway in the southern suburbs of Beirut to demand their release, but opened the roads following a plea from Nasrallah.
"The Free Syrian Army (FSA) said they took them. They let women go and kept the men. They told them that they will keep them until the Syrian army releases FSA detainees," a relative of one of the men said.
"When we crossed the border around 40 gunmen stopped the bus and forced it into a nearby orchard and said women should stay on the bus and men get out," Hayat Awali, who identified herself as a passenger, told Lebanon's Al Jadeed TV from Aleppo.
"We told them we are only pilgrims. They said 'take your pilgrims and go the police station in Aleppo and tell them we have prisoners there and we want them'."
But a member of one of the disparate bands of insurgents who fight under the umbrella of the FSA, contacted by Reuters via Internet telephone channel Skype in Aleppo, denied any personal knowledge of the abduction.
Syrian forces were said to have launched raids with tanks and other armored vehicles in an area of northern Aleppo province near the place where the Shia pilgrims were kidnapped, an opposition group said.
The head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said people in the town of Azaz in Aleppo province told him Syrian forces were combing some of the districts, Reuters reported.
Nasrallah called on Hezbollah supporters not to resort to violent methods to express their anger, vowing to do all the party can to free the kidnapped men.
"We understand the emotions expressed... This is our responsibility... We can express our discontent in a civilized way," he said.
"If the parents want to protest or have a sit-in in a mosque, it's their right. But, in the name of Hezbollah and Amal, nobody should block roads," he added.
"I wish from all people living in Dahiyeh, in all regions in Lebanon, our youth and followers and followers of Amal, we don't want you to block roads. Who are you trying to pressure? The politicians? We are already taking responsibility, this is a priority. This action will harm people and their businesses and lives," he said.
Hezbollah was already in contact with the Syrian and Lebanese governments on resolving the matter, Nasrallah said, adding that it was also the Lebanese government's responsibility to free its citizens.
"They are Lebanese citizens, there is a government in Lebanon, a sovereign state that should take responsibility of this act, like any government that respects itself when its own citizens are kidnapped in another country," he said.
Fear of a violent protests prompted the Hezbollah leader to make the call for restraint, after deadly clashes in the Lebanese capital on Sunday night left two people dead.
"The atmosphere in the country is not healthy at the moment and this will lead to problems. It's not ethical to block roads, or to attack anybody on the streets," he said.
Nasrallah also warned his followers from attacking the tens of thousands of Syrian working and living in Lebanon.
"People are saying there's Syrians in Lebanon and let's do anything about it, but this is forbidden, religiously and ethically," he said.
"The Syrians living in Lebanon are our people and they are our brothers."
Syrian rebels accuse Hezbollah of sending fighters to assist the Syrian regime, a charge Hezbollah denies, insisting it supports a political solution and has previously offered to mediate between the opposing parties.